UniServe€Science News, Vol. 4, July 1996

Exploring the Nardoo:Multimedia Reporting in Science Problem Solving

Barry Harper is with the Faculty of Education at the University of Wollongong

Introduction

Current interactive multimedia technologies can represent ideas in almost any mediated form. Provided we can generate a comprehensible metaphor for the underlying knowledge structures, the student can roam through the resources creating their own meanings and understandings of the phenomena they encounter. This rich context allows the novice to work with authentic problems and practice. With graphical and visual display coupled with large databases of resources, it is possible to explore an information space in whatever sequence appeals as appropriate to the task. When raising the idea Florin (1990, p30) saw "information landscapes, ...as virtual towns, or intellectual amusement parks. The analogy is quite intriguing and helps us to visualise many abstract concepts within a single metaphor".

However, within this context designers of multimedia learning environments have tended to be narrow in their view of how users will interact with the rich array of multimedia resources once a challenge, in the form of a problem to solve, has been posed. If students are to truly create their own meanings and understandings of the phenomena they encounter, designers need to incorporate user tools which will enable them to present their findings using the full array of resources contained in the packages. Exploring the Nardoo takes up these issues in presenting a rich information landscape that users can explore using an array of tools.

Problem Solving and Science Education

The aims and expectations of education imply that the process should foster in students the development of transferable, higher order intellectual skills and problem solving skills. They also imply deep and relational learning and the fostering of a positive disposition toward collaborative learning. While various strategies may be employed to foster each of these outcomes, none would seem to encompass the full spectrum more effectively than problem based learning.

By its very nature, problem solving is a student-centred, discovery-based strategy which challenges students to become active participants in the learning process. However, the extent to which this challenge is being taken up by students is very much dependant upon not only the enthusiasm of the instructor for this student-centred approach but also well designed teaching resources that support this type of approach. Even so, effective teaching is not necessarily related to effective learning.

Exploring the Nardoo and Problem Solving

Support materials for instructors in using problem-solving strategies in science education have been developed in various forms. Interactive multimedia technologies have the potential, by integrating a variety of media, to offer rich resources for such teaching strategies

A new package, based on ecology, called Exploring the Nardooincorporates problems that challenge students to become active participants in the learning process. By providing a metaphor relating to the real world, students are encouraged to apply scientific concepts and techniques in new and relevant situations in this ecology-based application, throughout the problem-solving process. In so doing, the learner is likely to become more interested in developing questions, ideas and hypotheses about the learning experiences encountered. As an alternative teaching/learning strategy in the development of inquiry and problem solving techniques this package incorporates high quality visual materials in the form of graphics, sound, text and motion video together with scientific measuring tools to aid in the construction of understanding.

Exploring the Nardoo provides the student with a flexible set of tools made available through a personal digital assistant (PDA; Figure 1) to assist in the problem solving process.

Figure 1: The Personal Digital Assistant Notebook

The process of using source material within the package in support of an investigation has been enhanced to allow the student to...

* decide precisely on the quantity and selection of text to be copied into their notes. This is either through making a selection and then `grabbing' it into the PDA or by using a `drag and drop' technique.

* use marker buttons as pointers to video, audio or picture information which can be displayed within the PDA's viewer along with any linked information. For example, by copying a picture of a wombat into their notes, the student is able to move throughout the information landscape within the package and very quickly view the picture of the wombat as well as its associated text within the PDA's viewer merely by clicking on the marker button within their notes. User defined portions of the reference text material displayed within the viewer is also able to be selected copied into the notes.

* gather video material and display it within the PDA thus increasing the student's ability to be more selective in what they choose to use in response to an investigation.

* manipulate marker buttons and text within the notes areas, via `drag and drop', to facilitate the re-ordering of ideas in the process of building an investigative response in the form of a report, explanation, procedure, etc.

* use text style tools, within editable text notes, providing the opportunity to use font colour, style and size as organising criteria within the notes. For example a student may recognise that a certain combination of text attributes is representative of newspaper clippings or they may choose to colour information they write or gather from a particular perspective in a special colour.

The joint combination of note book and viewer better equips students to view and then critically evaluate or compare different representations of the same information concept. By collecting different media representations of the same topic and `flipping' between these representations at their discretion, the student has the opportunity to establish cognitive links between different media forms which compliment each other and support a central theme or information focus.

Successful problem solving activities are reliant on numerous individual, social, and environmental factors. Exploring the Nardoo endeavours to assist students by providing some structures, or templates, upon which they can build their note taking or response writing activities. These are in the form of writing genre templates. Students may access the book containing these templates (as well as other organisational help on note taking, presenting and filing) from within the Water Research Centre - a metaphor with the information landscape of the package. Genre descriptions can be viewed and a genre template can be copied into the notes and used as a scaffold upon which to build or fill-in relevant information found whilst exploring the package.

To facilitate the re-ordering or reprioritising of information Nardoo provides a separate, expanded form of the notebook. This device has been termed a `text tablet'. It provides the editing facilities offered by the PDA as well as other features to assist with the restructuring of notes into a form more suited to small group presentation or a particular genre style. The text tablet provides a larger expanse of editable screen/document space into which student notes may be copied to and from the PDA notes module.

Conclusion

Exploring the Nardoo provides a rich information landscape with supportive tools for students to solve problems and investigate issues. The support tools allow multimedia reporting and are supported by several metacognitive tools for the writing process. These tools not only include details about genre but also templates to support the learners. The extent to which problem solving and student centred learning goals are achieved will be investigated and reported upon when the product is released to schools.

Barry Harper
b.harper@uow.edu.au

References

Florin, F. (1990). Information Landscapes. In S. Ambron, & K. Hooper, (Eds). Learning with Interactive Multimedia. Redmond: Microsoft. pp 28-49.

Cost: $185; additional copies on the same order are $40 per copy.
Distributor: Interactive Multimedia Pty Ltd, PO Box 772, Belconnen ACT 2616, email: nardoo@uow.edu.au Tel: 1 800 500 405, URL: http://www.immll.uow.edu.au
Requirements: Colour Macintosh, double speed CD-ROM drive, System 7.1 or better, QuickTime 2.1 (supplied), 2.5 MB RAM above System requirements.

PC version currently under development.